Context: My pirate, a reluctant British earl (he was the spare), has attained his goal with his piracy and has come home to stay and do his familial duty. In this scene, he has just found out that the bride he contracted to marry for an heir and a spare got snatched out from under her parents’ noses (never mind she was way younger than the contract stated and so it was void anyway) and now he has no fiancée and must find a new one.
His mother, his staunchest supporter, doesn’t understand why Elliott can’t marry his American privateer lover and bring her back to the estate to rule over it. She believes that man is the sole controller of his own path and so there should be nothing Elliott can’t do or make happen.
Alas, he knows better.
He was surprised to hear his mother’s voice in the doorway, much less laden with such concern, considering their last conversation—the one regarding Sophie’s future—had been less than cordial.
“It appears,” he said heavily, “that Camille is not the only one needing a match.”
“Well! Good! Then you may have your American privateer.”
“Not, and still fulfill my duty.”
“Duty,” she spat. “And what were your thoughts on that when you released Sophie from hers, I’d like to know.”
“Sophie’s only true responsibilities are those she chooses to bear,” he said briskly, going to the doorway to push her wheeled chair into the room next to his seat. He snatched a throw off the sofa and draped it over her lap, tucking it carefully around her legs before settling himself back into his own cushions. “What does it gain the family if she weds according to custom?”
“A good name.”
“Aye, because the Tavendish name is so pristine.” He smirked at the flush staining her cheeks. “As to my own, consider this,” he went on. “If I were to cast off any one of the many duties I have—family, home, security, country, whatever it may be—for one thing I want, what would make me stay the course for any of my other duties and not abandon everything within my realm of responsibility?”
She sniffed. “You would never do such a thing.”
“You think not? Aye, because I have always done my duty and have given you no reason to think I will not continue to do so. Here is the truth of it, Mother: I cannot have Fury and my family, too.”
She looked at him then, her expression tender and thoughtful. She grasped his hand. “Eli, whatever lies between us, I am still your mother. You try to hide it, but you are sad and lonely, and it is more than I can bear, because you have never been given to melancholy. Listen to me: We can find a way for you and your Fury to be together. There are always ways to get what you want.”
“But you do not consider the cost, which, in this case, far outweighs the gain.”
“Tell me what cost there would be to having your privateer in this family!”
“You would not gain a privateer, Mother,” he said quietly. “You would lose your son in truth, not just by metaphor.”
Her long silence was deafening. “I … don’t understand.”
“I would leave and never return.”
Her face clouded with confusion. “Why can you not bring her here to be your countess?”
“For several reasons, the first of which is that she is nine and twenty without having had any children, which would make the exercise entirely moot.”
“Well, if she is not wed, of course she has no children.”
“Mother!” Elliott said, exasperated. “She is a pirate! She is the daughter of one of King George’s sanctioned brigands, who raised her on the deck of a pirate ship on the Barbary Coast. Marriage has nothing to do with why a woman has no children when she has the same restrictions on her behavior as any male pirate, which is to say, none.”
“Oh,” she whispered, utterly shocked.
“Add to that the fact that she is not merely unwed—she is a widow.”
The countess’s bottom lip fell open a bit.
“I don’t want Fury here, Mother. Everything I love about her would waste away in the midst of such perfection and leisure until there was nothing left. Aye, she would come here if I asked, but she would sacrifice her soul in the doing and feel an ever-increasing burden of being unable to conceive. What good is that to either of us?”
“How do you want her?” she asked in a small voice.
“In America,” he said flatly. “In the wild. Carving out a life together. I know the exact spot, too. Five hundred miles inland from the coast, along the Cuyahoga River. A thousand acres of virgin land with two wide, clear streams running through a valley, and hundreds of thousands of wildflowers between them, begging to be plowed.”
He looked at her. Her face was unnaturally pale and her blue eyes big in her small face.
“You have been there?”
“Aye, I went there. Rathbone covered my absence for three months whilst I took a few of my men and found the spot. Then we stayed there and lived off the land, talked to the Indians, who, when we proved we were no threat, were in sympathy with our goals. It is what I have wanted since I was a child but had not the courage to defy Father and run off as I should have. I had never expected to become the earl—why would I?”
“When did you do that?” she whispered.
“Before Casco Bay. I was finished with the Navy and I had saved just enough to fund the venture. I could no longer fight for England when I longed for the freedom I could find on the American frontier. I intended that cruise to be my last—to come home, gather my things, say my adieux, find a wife, and head west before the war broke out in earnest.” He laughed bitterly. “And oh, aye, it was my last cruise, wasn’t it? Trussed up on a prison ship and taken to Newgate straightaway. After that, I simply wanted to be buried there after my execution.”
“Elliott!” she cried.
“Now you see my dilemma, Mother,” he said quietly. “I want a new life that includes Fury, who promised me she would leave the sea and go wherever I went as long as I was faithful to her and gave her a home. But she needs so much more than that. She needs a purpose, she needs work, and in Ohio, I could give her that, too.
“So I can stay here and do my duty by my family—which is not without its own cost independent of my happiness—or I can abandon you to pursue my own desires for the first time in my accursed life. But I cannot simply disappear because the Crown would never believe me dead and thus never relinquish the title to Niall.” He paused to see her staring into the fire, tears in her eyes.
“Fury paid a great price for her freedom—nearly her life, in fact. Twice. She was willing to, to gain that end. But she lived through it to see her independence and she revels in it. The Americans, likewise. They are willing to sacrifice their lives for the mere hope of independence, no matter how dim. Their failure is all but guaranteed, and when they lose, Britain will utterly destroy them for their little tantrum. But they will have paid the price to simply attempt it.
“So tell me, Mother. What cost are you willing to bear to see me settled with the woman I love and the life I have wanted since I was a child? What cost are you willing to bear to free me from my duty? Is my freedom worth the possible destruction of the entire family should our conspiracy come to light? The villagers? The tenants? The boarders? No. My piracy has put all of you in enough jeopardy, but they—you—share the rewards, which are great, and thus, the culpability. By contrast, there is no gain for any of you for my freedom. If I am here and our conspiracy is exposed, I can take you all and flee, but without me, you will have no recourse. I will not abandon you now.”
She put a trembling hand to her mouth.
“I pray you, Mother, do not scoff at my citation of duty again. Do not again castigate Father for his belief in Fate. I do not believe in Fate or God’s will or anything like it, but I do believe in responsibility. And choice. And consequences. And birthrights. But most of all, I believe in weighing the cost. Nothing can be had without a price. Even a choice between two good things comes at the cost of the thing not chosen. And I say this, Mother, to make you understand that you chose to do your duty all these years because you enjoyed it, not because it was your duty. Look to Lucille and see yourself reflected in her life, her joy in her children and the estate. You should count that a great blessing.
“I made a choice not to defy Father and leave for America, my own land, my own freedom. My own happiness. Aye, I was very young and I didn’t trust my own judgment and I did not want to disappoint him. I let fear rule me. But I have paid for that choice, that fear, hundreds of times over. The family, likewise, has suffered for my obedience, bankrupting the estate for my acquittal, throwing our dependents in poverty for it. And I know Father paid for it dearly, fifteen years living with heartache and regret.”
Her head was bowed. The throw across her legs was sprouting dark spots where her tears fell.
He paused and took a deep breath, then continued softly, “There are things in this world that strip men of choice. Lightning. Hurricanes. Disease. Wild animals. Governments. Evil men with power. For reasons I do not ken, you refuse to acknowledge these things, though you have borne the brunt of some.”
“But your—Captain Fury. You say you love her, but you won’t even try!” she cried. “You argue for rolling over like a beaten dog before the fight has even begun.”
He chuckled. “I have been beaten, Mother. Rolling over is not the worst thing in the world if the goal is to survive to fight a future battle with better odds. What happened to me aboard the Ocean is not the worst thing in the world, either.”
“You say that now, after you have had your revenge.”
Elliott nodded in acknowledgment of its truth. “I cannot deny it.”
They sat in silence for a long while, his mother clutching his hands, her grip tightening as she bent her head and wept.
“I am so sorry, my son. My wonderful, cheerful, courageous little boy. What can I do?”
“You say that there is nothing that cannot be torn asunder,” he said earnestly, not knowing if she truly apprehended him or not. “If you believe that, then devise a way to free me from the earldom whilst keeping the family safe from any repercussions of my piracy, and let me go. If anyone can, ’twould be you. But if you are not willing to assist me in that, then I pray you simply ponder what I have said. And cease this insistence—at least within my hearing—that a man can control the direction and every detail of his life. He can’t. He can only sail through the storm to the best of his knowledge and ability, and hope he is not dashed upon the rocks before he attains home.”
Fun fact: Elliott was named after the dragon in Pete’s Dragon